Conformance: Agreement
Non-conformance: Disagreement

There are many seemingly contradictory aspects to successful innovation, breakthroughs such as “independence yet teams,” “synergy yet conflict” and “abstract but organized.” It is no wonder few achieve what is possible. One of these aspects is the subject of this short page, namely, the devastating results of the management of agreement.
The wonderful story of Abilene told many years ago is just as powerful, meaningful today.
Making application of this principle to innovation is equally as important as any other aspect of good decision-making.


The Abilene Paradox, Summarized

The story is best related in person but it involves a group of seven people that are looking for something to do and agree with one dominate person (perhaps the CEO) to make a trip to Abilene. As the story evolves, no one really wanted to go to Abilene and in fact the trip is a disaster. It is a disaster from the moment the seven people crowd into a medium size car without air conditioning on a 100 degree F day for the five-hour drive to Abilene.
The principle is the devastation resulting from “the management of agreement.” CEO’s often surround themselves with loyal people and often that means they agree and agree readily. That is a lot more than loyalty and really a lot more like the loyalty of a pet. Innovation requires this on going, non-conforming conversation. It is an essential part of ideation, which leads to breakthroughs. Just keeping the discussion going has a lot of value and nothing stops the conversation faster than agreement. The “conversation process” facilitates the breakthrough and the desired highly valued agreement. This is much different than the agreement to go to Abilene.
A good team will GROW to understand things the same way (conformance) and that will come through doing the “testing” that comes from passionate questioning and hypothesis. One of the best things about a good innovative team is that they have diversity. An important lesson for every person in every endeavor is to “sharpen the saw” (a Stephen Covey term), but I use the bible verse in Proverbs, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” The value of having great teams is a critical part of breakthrough technology. Interestingly, innovative teams can appear to an outsider as dysfunctional simply because at times they are stubbornly not in alignment. Actually, there is alignment in terms of dedication to a single well-defined goal. In addition, the team members have high regard for one another.

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